5 August 2004
Analyst: Space weapon proponents need to make better case
Jefferson Morris

Aviation Week's
Vol. 211 No. 25

Recent action on Capitol Hill has shown that space weapon proponents need to make a better case for why their systems are needed, according to Randall Correll, a senior scientist at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in McLean, Va., and co-author of a recent paper on responsive space systems.

Congressional appropriators recently directed the Force Application and Launch from the Continental U.S. (FALCON) program not to engage in any "weapons-related work" during fiscal year 2005 (DAILY, July 26). Appropriators also chose to cut FY '05 funding for the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV) to $16 million from the Defense Department's $32 million request, and forbid any effort to put weapons on the CAV or test launch it on a ballistic missile.

Such restrictions are "largely due to the concern over the proper use of force in space and the vocal anti-space weapons community," Correll said at a luncheon in Washington Aug. 4 sponsored by the George C. Marshall Institute. "To their credit, they have been on the field. The people who are advocates of the funding for these particular programs ... haven't well engaged in that debate. So the right thing to do is to get in there and talk about it."

The CAV is an aerodynamic shell that would protect a military payload, either a weapon or sensor, as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere. The CAV could be deployed into orbit for later use or launched on a ballistic trajectory and transit through space like an intercontinental ballistic missile. The Air Force has been developing the CAV with the goal of being able to strike fleeting targets anywhere in the world within two hours.

"Congress is concerned, and rightly so, that launch of the CAV could be misperceived as launch of nuclear forces," Correll said. "And that's historically been an issue. If we've launched a missile, and it's not advertised as a space launch, what is it? If it's a weapon, might it be a nuclear weapon? This is a valid concern, but one that I think has been adequately addressed in other strategic ... weapon systems" such as B-52 bombers, B-2 bombers, and  nuclear-capable submarines, he said.

In the case of the CAV, "I think these [concerns] can be adequately addressed, but I would say that they, to date, haven't been," Correll said.

Peter Huessy of the National Defense University Foundation said the anti-space weapons lobby has been effective in part because of its significant financial backing. The lobby is "being led, unfortunately, by not just the traditional arms control community, but about $100 million a year from foundations," according to Huessy. "And that kind of money is so far and beyond anything being spent by the proponents. Until Congress grapples with this ... the CAV will go forward, but modestly, with these kinds of language restrictions."

Correll said he thinks "there's plenty of money on the side of the folks who would like to pursue some of these weapons to do some talking on their own."

Space budget cuts

A number of other military space programs suffered FY '05 funding cuts from congressional appropriators as well, including the Space Based Radar (SBR) and Transformational Satellite (T-SAT) programs (DAILY, July 21).

"Despite these being important and deemed transformational by the Department of Defense, I think Congress isn't buying it," Correll said. "Either they don't believe they're transformational, or they're not sure that we should embark on new programs when old programs like SBIRS [Space Based Infrared System] are still having some problems."


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